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Black Dog Black Friday

At this time of year I am sometimes pursued by a black dog. There have been years when there has been a pack of them, unruly and barking.

It used to be that I was afraid of the black dog but that made it worse, there was a mental frenzy of trying to dodge it and the more I dodged Black, the more legs he sprouted to trip me up, until, finally, he was in fact Sleipnir the Dog, born of Loki and Greyfriars’ Bobby no doubt.

Over the years I have learnt to whistle for Black, because that way he must come to heel and I am in charge. I can offer him small treats, a little stress here, so sinewy and chewy, over there I can lob him a little melancholy shadow for him to settle into. But that way I manage him. I see the lowering of the lights and know that his paws will pad towards me. The rustle of the leaves as they fall from the trees disguises the panting of his bone-strewn breath.

black dogHe’s a mythic beast. His fur is thick and dark as the night terrors, inked in with all my woes and griefs over the years. He is not a welcome companion but at least he is no stranger. I wrangle him nowadays and realise that as well as bringing all the griefs back for me to pick over and spill tears on, he can also take those troubles and upsets that have gathered. I can load him up as I reach to ruffle around his shaggy neck. He licks them from my hand, snaffles them from the floor where I drop them.

If there comes a moment when he snarls and I know that he will turn on me, that I will be not devoured but savaged, bitten, wounded, then I must find an escape. This, is the only time I ride a horse.

The reasons.

Long ago, when I was at university at Warwick, my mum and dad arrived for a visit and we visited Ragley Hall. There was a stable block and, unusually for a stately home, there was in fact a  horse in it. Only when you have seen a horse in a stable like that do you have a true idea of the power of the horse. It was a wild, whirling thing caught behind wooden planks and wrought bars. The scent was strong but the energy of the beast was stronger, you could almost hear its heart thudding. It made a nickering sound, low and rumbly and in the distance another horse whinnied out in reply. The horse in the stable listened, ears pricking and with a rearing motion that hinted at a possibility that it might escape up through the ceiling, the horse let out a neigh. The sound was vast, a wave washing around myself and my dad, silencing us both. I have never forgotten it.

This is the memory I use if Black decides to misbehave. With his jaws snarling with the past, with the worry and doubt and anxiety dripping from his teeth I lift my head and ask Horse to come out of the wood.

Horse arrives, heavyhoofed and wild eyed. My fingers clutch at mane and I lift my mental self up and out of the landscape, the rhythm of hooves, the smell of horse as he rises, up, up into a starlit sky to where there is nothing but breath and forged iron.

 
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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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